Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jam of the Week

Nowadays people always say that social media is taking over our lives. And I would say yes, I do spend too much time on social media. Yet, I do not think every part of a site like Facebook is destructive. In fact, lately Facebook has been educational for me.

"Jam of the Week" is a Facebook group dedicated to sharing personal musical interpretations of jazz songs. The group has over 22,000 members, and highlights a jazz song or set of songs to choose from each week. Jazz standards like "All the Things You Are" or "Cherokee" become the topic of the week, and musicians from any experience level, from beginner to professional, all over the world, can submit a one chorus improvisational solo over the chord changes to the song. Submissions can be A Cappella or accompanied, solo or with a group- everything is up to the individual. People are encouraged to listen to various posts and comment on them; critiques are requested on an individual basis to create a positive, supportive environment.

The group description states: "This Group is not to see who has the greatest chops, who can play the highest, etc. It is a place to have fun, learn some new licks, network with fellow musicians and to promote the simple fact that we are all learning and striving to be better."

To learn more about Jam of the Week, visit the website

Jam of the week

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Bryan Murray, a professional musician from the Jam of the Week group, who commonly plays a balto! saxophone. I have listened to his videos on a weekly basis, and they always make me laugh. To learn more about Murray, visit his website

1. Describe how you first heard about Jam of the Week, and why you decided to join the community. 

One of my saxophone students told me about it and I immediately thought it would be fun to join and play only balto! saxophone. I love seeing how people react to the instrument.  

2. How would you describe the Jam of the Week community? Would you say the group is more for entertainment or educational purposes?

I think it’s a really cool way for people to get heard by their peers and get instant feedback. I love the idea of everyone being on the same level, posting on the same page whether it’s a young student or a professional. For the most part, people are very supportive.  You can ask for critiques or comments on your playing. It’s an open forum so you’re going to get an occasional bad comment but you also get lots of good ideas to make you a better player.  

3. How do you go about preparing your videos for Jam of the Week? Can you explain what a balto! is? What kind of sound do you want to achieve?  

Sometimes i just throw on a play-along CD and use my iPod to capture video and sound and other times I record to garage band with a mic and mix it with the video to get better sound quality. It mostly depends on how much time I have.  

The balto! is an alto sax with a bari sax mouthpiece and plastic reed. The thing I like about it is that it’s unpredictable, like a wild animal that you can’t tame. The sound is disgusting to most people and I like that. It’s not pretty. I’m sick of pretty. I never know if the upper notes are going to come out right and it’s kind of impossible to play exactly in tune.

4. What has been your favorite experience on Jam of the Week? What has been your favorite video to post?  

My favorite experience is hearing new players and finding people that are actually into what I’m doing, because I’m nuts and if people like it then there are other nut jobs out there too! We are all out there looking for support and to feel good about ourselves. That’s what social media is about. We all want to feel good. If you see something you don’t like, you can hide it, or unfriend or block. It’s an escape from your daily grind. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but I enjoy it. I’m a social media addict. If a million people “like” your post, then you feel awesome! I also really like it when people get pissed off at what I’m doing. If everyone liked it, then I think it would be time to do something else. My favorite video to post was “The Preacher” because I had my 2 year old daughter play drums. We did a bunch of takes and she had a blast.  

5. Please describe your performance experience outside of Jam of the Week, such as your group Bryan and the Haggards. 

I toured for a year with David Byrne and St. Vincent and that ended last September. Now I’m back to playing with my band, “Bryan and the Haggards” and also Jon Lundbom’s “Big Five Chord”.  Both bands have basically the same musicians (different drummers), but the material is different. Jon’s band plays his songs and my band plays the music of Merle Haggard. We play here and there and make albums for Hot Cup Records, which is the bass player Moppa Elliott’s record label. It’s a big musical family. I’ve been playing with these guys for years and it’s been great. 

6. Who are your musical influences? Who is your favorite saxophonist? 

Right now, I’m way into hip hop. I’m making a balto! hip hop album so I’m checking out tons of bands. My current faves are Chance the Rapper (my wife thinks his voice is as annoying as the balto!) and Jay Z but I’m checking out all the classic stuff too. I also love country music, Merle Haggard being my favorite. As far as jazz and saxophone goes, I’ve been freaking out over Albert Ayler. Can’t get enough of it. They didn’t play that for me when I was in music school so I heard about him really late, which was probably a good thing because I wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Back then I wanted to be Joe Lovano. I bought every freaking album he was on. In high school I wanted to be Branford Marsalis. He came through town with his quartet and it blew my mind. Also Sonny Rollins, Coltrane and Joe Henderson were a big influence on me when I was in school and still are today. Other guys I like that maybe don’t get as much recognition as they should are Rich Perry and Chris Cheek - two amazingly humble guys and great players. Rich has the best live sax sound I’ve ever heard.  

7. What kind of advice do you give to young musicians starting out in the jazz world? 

Listen to everything.  Don’t worry about what music everyone else likes, or what is the hip stuff now. Just keep an open mind. There is beautiful music out there. The more influences you have the more unique you’ll sound.  

Final Thoughts: 
Jam of the Week astounds me with the ability to see so many levels of playing and interpretations to one song. People from all over the world come together to help each other learn jazz- that kind of open mind is what I love about jazz. 

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